IT learning to cover its assets

In a perfect world people would never lose their hardware lease paperwork, or download a copy of Excel to read the hockey pool, but in the tangled jungle of enterprise computing infrastructures can grow, die and mutate in ways that give managers – and auditors – fits of frustration.

It was to combat this IT free-for-all that a set of processes, policies and technologies – called asset management – evolved to ensure the effective acquisition, deployment and disposal of IT assets.

Asset management involves tracking the physical attributes – the make, model and version – of an organization’s hardware and software, plus all of its contractual and financial information, said Sherry Irwin, president of Mississauga, Ont.-based Technology Asset Management Inc., and organizer of this week’s IT Asset Management Conference and Showcase 2002 in Toronto.

“You not only need to know what you have and where it is, you need to know how much you paid for it both initially and on a recurring basis if there’s maintenance. If it’s software, for example, you track what the terms are governing the use of that asset and any restrictions on it,” Irwin said.

As organizations start to collect and correct information about their assets, anomalies will often appear that, when investigated, offer an opportunity to reduce costs, Irwin said.

“Gartner is saying that businesses can see a 20 to 40 per cent reduction in cost per asset during the first year of an asset management plan, and an additional six to eight per cent annually over the next five years,” she said.

With 4,500 workstations, 500 notebooks and 200 midrange and Intel servers, conference speaker Roger Craig, IT asset data steward for Hamilton, Ont. steel maker Dofasco Inc. said monitoring his company’s assets presented a daunting challenge.

After a months-long search for a new tracking tool, the steel market took a dive in early 2001. The resultant belt-tightening forced his department to bring its asset tracking initiative in-house, and focus more on the process than the tool, Craig said.

This was a blessing in disguise, however, since he soon realized that asset tracking was actually “85 per cent process and only 15 per cent tool.” After the experience, Craig said a new Asset Centre was established to help ensure that all of Dofasco’s hardware and software requisitions, installs, moves, add-ons and changes were captured on a centrally managed tracking tool.

Although the process is new to many enterprises, in the mainframe environment asset management has been practised for many years, Irwin said.

“It’s in the last six to seven years that some of the same discipline has been applied to the distributed environment. It’s as the distributed environment grew that people started to at least sense – even if they weren’t able to quantify – a number of inefficiencies,” she said.

“For example, you may find that somebody’s put a maintenance contract on equipment that’s still under warranty. But without putting all those pieces of information together – if the organization’s right hand is not talking to the left – it happens. So there’s an immediate opportunity for savings by cancelling that maintenance agreement, or applying it to other equipment,” Irwin said.

Craig said Dofasco’s tracking program, officially went online in September, started by tracking desktops, and is gradually working through the steel maker’s server environments as its leases run out or upgrades are launched. Already it has turned up some surprising information.

“We discovered that we had something like 1,200 licenses for (Microsoft Corp.’s) Visio, but certainly not that many regular users. It seems that people would get an e-mail or memo with a Visio graphic, so they’d try to open it and end up with a licensed version,” he said.

They attacked this problem by teaching the few regular Visio users to save their work for distribution as a jpeg file, so it could be viewed with a browser, Craig said. One of the many goals of the desktop program, he added, is to harvest as many licenses as possible back to Microsoft before the software giant’s new assurance program kicks in.

“There is a potential to save major dollars here,” Craig said. “It’s always the people change that is the hardest to invoke … but (the potential for savings) got upper management on board early and they led by example.”

“Plus,” he added, “we structured (the Asset Centre) so I’m accountable to the general manager of IT services – so if I need a big stick I’ve got it.”

Dofasco is online at Technology Asset Management is at

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